Archive for 'bootstrapping'

Why can’t we make apps as good as fucking weekend hackers?

This past Friday I had the opportunity to see fifteen apps that were developed in 6 hours at HackOTT.

And they were almost all really good.

The rules were that the teams had to be 1-3 people.  They had to use local APIs (Shopify, Tineye, Freshbooks,, Pretzil, to build their apps, and they had to be cool (not sure this is official, but sure seemed like it).

As best as I can tell, the event attracted awesome, talented programmers who wanted to spend their Saturday coding – which is what most of them do for a “day job” – to see what kind of cool things they could create.

And cool things were definitely created!

So what the hell?  How can programmers build such awesome iPhone and web apps in such a short time and yet companies take months and a lot of money (if they ever actually build something) to make mediocre apps?

Here are some examples (just for fun):

1. Reservely (Brad and Jevin):

An application that allows users to select a restaurant nearby and make a reservation.  The system calls the restaurants and lets them accept or decline with a push of a button, or connect with the requestor.  (won first prize)


2. MoodVee (SelectStart Studios):

An app that lets you select from the library based on your “mood” (select a color and they’ll pull back the most popular movies that have that color predominantly on their DVD cover)

3. DateShake (SelectStart Studios):

An app that randomly selects a friend (from twitter), a restaurant (from, and a movie (from by shaking your phone.

If I had more screen shots I would post them here.  But the point is… how awesomely talented are these people and why can’t we use this model to make more awesome stuff?  I think we can.

Oh, and don’t go all “it takes a lot more than a good app to build a business” on me.  Come on.  6 hours and pure awesome.

Congrats to all who participated, and especially the sponsors and coordinators (special cred to who are late to the location-based business directory party but seem to be connecting with the community in an awesome way).

By Scott Annan

MediaMiser lands a cool Mil!

Yesterday local news aggregator and awesomator MediaMiser announced that it closed a million dollar in financing from the BDC and RBC.

From startup CEO Brett Serjeantson:

“This funding isn’t needed to keep the doors open,” stated Brett Serjeantson, MediaMiser’s chief executive officer and chief technology officer. “Rather, it’s needed so we can blow the doors off.”

What are they going to do with all that money in the bank?  They claim to be hiring 15 new staff to help drive more business.  But StartupOttawa insiders know that they’ve recently hired local newsy celebrity Jim Donnelly (formerly of the OBJ) and we also know that a million dollars will barely cover his annual expense account.

Still – it may be a good time to clean up the CV on Linkedin…

By Scott Annan

Hey Entrepreneurs: Win a golden boot!

What do Erin Blaskie and I have in common?  Well, we’re both very good looking, modest, shy, reserved… and we both have a golden boot!  We won them last year at the OCRI Bootstrap awards.  It was a great event hosted by OCRI and local celebrity Entrepreneur Bruce Firestone.

Last year recognized a lot of recognizable, and fast-growing startups including:

Network Hippo (just awesome)
Steward Supreme Vending
Wedding Republic
CrowdWave Games
UCreate Media
MartSmart Shopping Network
Social Mention

The Bootstrap awards are a great way to celebrate local entrepreneurs who battle it out daily to build their businesses.  If you know an entrepreneur, you would be doing a great honour to them by nominating them for an award.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you should nominate yourself.  It’s a great event and you’ll likely get some of the great benefits that I received by being a part of the event.  Here’s some of the benefits that I received from the event:

  • A golden boot!
  • Free legal advice that helped us get a cool office space (thanks to Steve Sheppard from Brazeau Seller!)
  • A new CFO (met at the event)
  • Some great leads (and a couple of new clients)
  • Press and social media shout outs
  • Helped develop relationships with some great leaders in Ottawa
  • Breakfast with Erin Blaskie and Trina Lamarche (no guarantee that you’ll have this opportunity!)

It’s hard running a startup and you deserve to get some recognition.  So take 5 minutes to nominate yourself (or another startup).  It’s worth it.

(Photo credit to Trina Lamarche’s iPhone!)

By Scott Annan

Now open: Mercury Grove, a shelter for aspiring startup entrepreneurs

Mercury Grove Office

As I announced at our launch party last week, we’re opening up the Mercury Grove office to innovative entrepreneurs who are looking for an alternative to the local Bridgehead or Starbucks.  It’s a funky place located downtown Ottawa (in the Glebe) with lots of place to work, a lounge, conference meeting space, a video-recording room (coming soon), and a ping-pong room.

And it’s free (almost).

The idea behind opening up our space is that I think that Ottawa has some of the greatest entrepreneurs, talent, and ideas in the world.  But we don’t spend enough time together collaborating on ideas, discussing technology opportunities, or discussing ways we’re changing the world.  I think the more we can be surrounded by people who are facing similar challenges (trying to get launched, trying to get noticed, and trying to get paid) the more we can feed off each other’s successes and learn from each other’s experiences.

There are plenty of models out there, and I think there’s a lot of legitimacy behind them, but I also think there’s a lot of negatives.

You can go out and get your own office if you have a few employees, and this works well to build the team and concentrate on your world domination.  But it can be expensive if you’re only one or two people.  Co-working spaces are an awesome modern alternative to renting office space, but there are costs involved there too, and often these spaces develop cultures that don’t meet everyone’s needs.  OCRI and a lot of experienced executives in Ottawa have been talking about an Innovation Centre (capital I, capital C) to rival MARS in Toronto as an innovation hub, but for web startups I think this is overkill and the focus with most “incubators”, “accelerators”, and other “-ators” is misplaced on “added value” of the mentors, fax machine, and receptionists and the cost is almost always way to high for what you get (usually equity).  What I want and think others may want as well, is a raw space with an internet connection where we can build a movement to change the world.

Last year I wrote about how startups don’t need offices and was interviewed by the Globe and Mail on the same subject.  I STILL don’t think startups need an office and felt compelled earlier this year to get an office in order to receive government funding.  Otherwise, I still wouldn’t have an office.  Mercury Grove has thrived for the last 6 years as a virtual company and I think the office is unnecessary for us to continue to be successful.

But, alas, I conceded, so now I have an office.  So, I figured if I had to have an office, you don’t have to.

Now I admit, it’s a bit of a social experiment and we’ll make it up as we go, but here’s the general idea:

  1. There is no financial cost to use the space
  2. You have to be open to collaborate and share with other people
  3. You can’t be all douche-baggy (not all the time)
  4. You have to participate in some of the events

So… the next time you’re heading out to Bridgehead or Starbucks but are looking for a little more collaboration and fun with other innovative startups, come on by and plug-in.  Oh, and if you’re looking for somewhere to host an event, send an email to and I’m sure we can hook you up.

Address: 738A Bank St. (map here)
Phone: 613-237-2071

By Scott Annan

TeamCamp how to sessions on Web Startups

I met Chris Schmitt a couple of months ago over lunch at the Corner Grill and he told me about a cool web-based shopping list application that he was bootstrapping (or rather moonlighting). He was looking for developers and was hoping for introductions. We got into talking about cool new distributed development models, the “camp” movement, and the opportunities in Ottawa to bring people together around innovative ideas and cool technology.

Little did I know that it would lead to the birth of TeamCamp, a really cool concept that Chris has spearheaded with support from Ian Graham at the Codefactory.

I’ve seen Chris at several events around town since that first meeting and I’m constantly impressed with his dedication to the idea and the opportunities of TeamCamp.

So when he emailed me about a series of “how to” meetings on web-based startups he was coordinating, I was immediately excited.

Here are some of the topics:

  • Defining your product or service
  • Picking the right business model
  • Sales, marketing and distribution Channels
  • Competition/Competitive analysis
  • Market research
  • Starting your business
  • Patents, trademarks, licensing and intellectual property
  • Building your business – how to find people, keep your people and make steady progress

Chris’s plan is to bring in local entrepreneurs with some battle scars to talk to these points (and no doubt those opportunists at Labarge Weinstein for the legal session!) which I think is a fantastic idea.

You can learn more about the session on the TeamCamp website and I encourage you to contact Chris for more information.

Chris – is there somewhere we can signup?

By Scott Annan

Couple of LW startup events next week…


Hey all, wanted to circulate a couple of invites for events we are hosting next week, both of which should be great. As with most of the events we host through the Ottawa Network, it is a good news (no charge to attend), bad news (both are in Kanata, for you downtown types) story.

The first is on Tuesday evening and is focused on cleantech investment, we’ve got a great panel of folks from all walks of investing life (angels, VCs, public) and there is a great group of founders and companies attending, so if cleantech is your thang then please feel free to attend. You can RSVP me at or my dutiful assistant Diana Lavigne at (yes, she’ll end up getting the RSVPs you send to me too, but I don’t want to seem too distant J).

The second is on Wednesday evening at our offices beside the Brookstreet Hotel (@ 515 Legget Drive) and is likely more up the Startup Ottawa crowd’s backalley/wheelhouse [insert alternative sports cliché here for something that would interest you guys]. We are hosting a bunch of local mobile apps folks to talk about the industry, including deensoft, You i Labs, Crank Software and Rove Mobile. In addition (weather permitting), we are hosting two great mobile guys from Toronto, Alan Lysne from Cascada Mobile and the mysterious Amar Varma, founder of the one of the hottest new mobile apps shops out there, Extreme Venture Partners.


Startup Drop In February 18, 2009

I’ve been down to the Extreme VP set up down in Toronto on one my bi-weekly sojourns down there, and it is a sight to behold. Amar has his team cranking out tools and applications for clients at a prodigious pace, and it will be great to get his perspective on the market. Amar is always recruiting new people and ideas, so hopefully you can attend to touch base and meet him if you are interested in what his group is doing.

One last plea, do not listen to Scott Lake who suggests that Kanata is the exit just before North Bay. Since Scott’s recent sleep-deprived cocooning with his young child, and his questionable choice to rely on Scott Annan for his sole adult contact over the last few weeks, his sense of perspective and direction are wholly unreliable (in fact, based on the recent Dex roadtrip posts, I am pretty sure Stockholm syndrome has kicked in…). Please all make the trip and Shane and I will make sure you get something out of it.

 BTW Scotts, when do the LaBarge Weinstein folks get some love in the top right corner already?  

By James Smith

Bright Side of Life Part III

I’m back with the third installment of the “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” series of posts started a couple weeks ago (see Part I and Part II).  

Bright Side of Life #3:  If you need money for your startup, VCs aren’t the only game in town – The lack of venture capital money has required that folks come up with some more creative ideas on funding.  Here are a couple random examples of ways companies are finding funds out there:

– Although not for everyone, there has been a rise in interest in the Capital Pool Company program offered by the TSX Venture Exchange as an alternative route to funding.  The TSX Venture Exchange calls it “Public Venture Capital”.  It’s not as easy as they make it sound, but at least people are thinking and coming up with different ways to address the problem.  

– Lots of startups are doing paid service work on the side to support the core business — be careful not to divert too much focus from the main goal.  

– Others are turning more to governmental sources.  Last week I had breakfast with a guy who recently began working at the Ontario Ministry of Small Businesses and Consumer Services.  When he started with them he was surprised to find just how many different pools of money the Ontario Government has available for small companies that often go untapped because, as he put it, people don’t know about them, don’t know their startup is eligible or (get this) aren’t interested in applying because of some perceived negativity toward taking government funds or toward the application process itself.   Interestingly, part of this Ministry’s mandate is to disburse these funds and so they practically want to give you the money.   In fact, I understand that they will send someone to you to help you determine which programs you might be eligible for and help guide you through the process.  I would be more than happy to put you in touch with my contact at the Ministry.  Please contact me if you are interested ( or 613 599 9600 ext 262).

These are just a few examples. There are loads of alternative funding sources out there that you might not think of right away and, once you get the funds, there are lots of ways to try and leverage more than 100 cents out of a given dollar of funding.   Best of luck.

Shane McLean

By James Smith

When economic times look bad, Companies turn to tech

The Dow Jones opened under 8,000 points this morning.

Many people couldn’t believe it when it dropped below 10,000 last week, now, even with the massive bailout package in the US, investors are still in panic mode.

These market depressions will likely mean a lot of job cuts and budget cut-backs, but for local tech entrepreneurs, its time to increase your marketing and get your value proposition out there.  There are a lot of opportunities for small tech companies when the market goes bad, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. Tough times mean hiring freezes and job cuts as companies are nervous about growing HR costs.  But the same amount of work needs to get done, so companies outsource a lot of work as a temporary fix.
  2. Fewer staff to achieve the same results means a higher dependency on technology.  Although companies may need to delay the $5 million Oracle implementation, the $80,000 productivity enhancement could mean immediate savings.
  3. Companies will be looking for low-cost high innovation products for non-critical processes – they will be more responsive than usual.
  4. Job seekers will be turning to social networks.  Websites that connect people will likely see a pretty big jump in traffic.
  5. Tough love.  With less angel and VC money flowing, now is a time to focus on making your business cash-positive and fast.  Figure out that equation and you’ll weather the storm and come out the other side with very strong fundamentals.

I’m convinced its a good time to be in a startup and to double-down efforts to grab more customers during these turbulent times. 

What do you think?

By Scott Annan

How to Save Money for your Startup

cutting costs

Everyone has their own bootstrapping tips. I recently read an excellent article from FoundRead that summarizes some of the resources available for bootstrapping startups. I recommend that everyone read the full article on cutting your startup costs from FoundRead.

By Aydin Mirzaee